When Franco Harris was a Pittsburgh Steelers rookie in 1972, he
dutifully followed a team tradition. As the team's first-round
draft pick, he was required to bring a couple of dozen doughnuts
to practice once a week for his veteran teammates. He carried the
pastries on a city bus because he didn't yet own a car. At the
time the soft-spoken Harris thought little about this mundane
task, but he now laughs at the memory. Since 1990 the Super Bowl
IX MVP has been running Super Bakery, a Pittsburgh company that
manufactures and distributes in all 50 states what it calls
"nutritional doughnuts." ("It's an oxymoron," says Harris.
"Definitely.") Super Bakery's doughnuts and muffins, which are
low in fat and enriched with vitamins and minerals, are sold to
school systems and hospitals.
In addition to traveling the country hawking his pastries,
Harris, who carried the pigskin in nine Pro Bowls, co-owns Parks
Sausages, a Baltimore-based manufacturer. Harris and his
partners, who include his former Penn State backfield mate Lydell
Mitchell, bought the nearly bankrupt operation in '96 and have
turned it around by restructuring its debt and resurrecting its
signature advertising slogan, "More Parks sausages, Mom. Please!"
Like Parks, the woeful Steelers, who had suffered through eight
straight losing seasons before 1972, needed serious help from
Harris. He provided it by rushing for more than 100 yards seven
times in his rookie year as Pittsburgh improved to 11-3 and made
the playoffs for the first time. Harris, the son of a black army
officer and his Italian war bride, inspired a fan club called
Franco's Italian Army, and he rewarded his loyal followers that
year by making the infamous Immaculate Reception to give the
Steelers a 13-7 playoff win over the Oakland Raiders. He went on
to rush for a Super Bowl-record 354 yards in Pittsburgh's four
championship-game victories in the 1970s. When he retired in '84,
he held or shared 24 NFL records, and his 12,120 yards rushing
trailed the career total of only Jim Brown.
After leaving football, Harris immediately began to put his
degree in hotel administration and food service to use by
working as a distributor of frozen fruit bars and fresh-squeezed
orange juice. He still lives in the Steel City with his
22-year-old son, Dok, a recent Princeton graduate, and Dok's
mother, Dana Dokmanovich. Now Harris is taking Super Bakery
products into retail outlets, and he has targeted another
promising market. "We're going to start talking to police
departments," he says, laughing. "They're on our radar screen.
They need some healthy doughnuts."
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. (COVER)
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT GOLDSMITH
When he retired in 1984, he held or shared 24 NFL records and
trailed only Jim Brown in rushing yards.